(Pocket-lint) - Smartphones have come along way from the early days of Palm, so can Google and T-Mobile crack it with the G1? Pocket-lint was given a phone ahead of the launch to find out.
There are two elements to the G1, the operating system and the handset design.
Rather than spend too much time on the handset tech specs you can take it as a given it comes with most things: HSDPA, 3.2-inch touchscreen, QWERTY keyboard, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, microSD slot and 1GB of internal memory.
On the handset front the phone is big, pretty ugly and comes with a number of annoyances. Thick and large, the G1 sports a large touchscreen and an even larger QWERTY keyboard. Double thickness like the HTC Touch Pro, the screen slides out in a semi-circular motion and the whole experience is very much akin to the T-Mobile Sidekick.
Aside from the keyboard which is well spaced out, although difficult to see due to white lighting on white keys, the phone also sports pick up and drop call buttons, a home button, a back button and a Pearl similar to that found on the BlackBerry handsets. If that wasn't enough there is a menu button, volume buttons on the side and a dedicated camera shutter button. If you like buttons you will be fine.
There's an external memory slot so you can build on the 1GB included in the handset, but no 3.5mm headphone jack, although you do get headphones (complete with remote control) in the box that fit the dedicated socket.
Out of 10, the handset design scores about a 3. Yes, it really is that bad when you compare it to other HTC devices, the Touch HD for example, the iPhone, the BlackBerry Storm, even the Samsung Omnia. The word on the street is that Google had a big controlling stake in designing the handset. If that is the case, let's just say it's a good job Google make software applications rather than hardware.
So let's move on to the operating system. A new operating system means plenty of new toys to get used to and with Google at the helm there are high expectations. Well, after spending some time with the handset, we get the feeling that Android has potential, but it's not quite there yet, certainly not from a consumer point of view.
To get started you need a Gmail account. No problem. Easy to set-up and you'll be going in seconds, that is unless you have a Google Apps Gmail account. In what seems to be the most ridiculous move ever, our unit wouldn't accept our Gmail apps login (something the Nokia E71 did within 5 seconds). What this means, is that if you are savvy enough to run your email server via Google you won't be able to use it from the get go. Ok, so it's a bug that's likely to be fixed in the next couple of weeks, but if you are planning on getting one over the weekend, it's worth knowing.
Get past that grumble and the phone OS is easy to use and very intuitive. The touch response is clean and easy and the range of apps on start up cover all that you'll probably need: music, maps, email, browser, contacts, etc. Syncing your contacts book to the phone will require you to use some form of cloud computing (Gmail contacts for example) but it's fairly simple to set-up.
Like the iPhone App Store, Android comes with its own Marketplace and here you can download further apps to personalise your phone some more. For the first couple of months you'll only get free apps and this is likely to stifle what's available, but it will mean you can get used to how the system works without the fear of pressing the wrong button.
So should you ditch your current mobile and sign up? If you class yourself as a consumer, most definitely not. The handset will have you laughed at down the pub and the lack of an onscreen keyboard, poor design and overall clunkiness will mean that it's not going to be for you.
If however you consider yourself a geek, want to have the much talked about handset and access to that operating system (rather than the online demo) then go for it, but like Mr Consumer, be prepared to have to fight hard for your choice.
This is one of those classic cases of the operating system having so much potential, but it's not going to be a success from day one. Our suggestion would be to wait 6 months to a year and by then you'll have so many handset choices (perhaps even the Touch HD) that will offer a far better, sexier, more consumer focused, offering that this will be old news and look, well, rather crap.
A great OS let down by a shoddy handset design.